Options market sees big earnings move for Apple

NEW YORK Tue Apr 24, 2012 4:07am EDT

An Apple retail store is seen in Carlsbad, California April 6, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake

An Apple retail store is seen in Carlsbad, California April 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The wild ride in Apple shares this year could get even more interesting when the company reports quarterly results after the bell on Tuesday.

Judging by trade in the options market, investors expect Apple shares to jump or fall by about 7.5 percent, a much greater swing than the average post-earnings move of about 4.25 percent in the past four quarters.

Apple shares have experienced wild swings since touching an all-time high of $644 on April 10. The stock closed down 0.2 percent at $571.70 on Monday, but is up about 41 percent for the year.

Although the moves in Apple shares have been a huge story for financial markets all year, results for the latest quarter will be released in a more anxious environment.

"The reason why the move this time is greater than previous is because there is just so much uncertainty, as the global economy is giving mixed signals," said JJ Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist for TD Ameritrade in Chicago.

"Investors are expecting Apple to beat earnings but they also expect Apple to give out a guidance of a slowdown going forward."

Based on the activity of weekly Apple options - mostly used for short-term bets and earnings plays as they only have a week-long lifespan and expire every Friday - Apple shares are expected to move by $43, or 7.5 percent, in either direction.

Such a move would be the biggest since the shares fell by 10.6 percent when results for the fourth-quarter of 2007 were released in January 2008.

Apple is expected to report earnings of $9.94 a share on revenue of $36.48 billion, which equates to earnings growth of about 55 percent from the same quarter a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

According to Birinyi Associates, Apple's earnings have surpassed analysts' projections in 97 percent of reports since 2003. Traders have reacted positively to Apple's report 71 percent of the time, and the stock has risen, on average, 2.6 percent from the closing price prior to earnings to 8 a.m. ET the next morning.

"Regardless of whether the stock is higher or lower after the report, the next day from the open to the close Apple trades lower 68 percent of the time for an average loss of 0.5 percent," said Kevin Pleines, analyst at Birinyi Associates.

Apple shares are slightly above their 50-day moving average at $570.76.

In the options market, 600,000 calls and 394,000 puts traded in Apple on Monday, according to options analytics firm Trade Alert, just a tad above the recent average daily volume.

The most active option was the weekly $600 strike calls expiring this Friday, followed by the monthly May $570 strike puts.

"Option sentiment is biased positively as a result of call buying in the past few days," said Terry Wilson, equity derivatives strategist at Credit Suisse.

Apple's skew, which measures the demand for out-of-the-money puts relative to calls, has flattened and is in the 15th percentile.

Apple, riding on strong iPhone and iPad sales, has smashed consensus estimates in recent quarters. But any dissatisfaction with the numbers could weigh heavily on its shares, which have quadrupled over the past two and a half years.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)

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